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Writing Tools

In a world where much of our long-distance correspondence is accomplished by telephone and email, it is already becoming something of a novelty to return to pen and paper. But in Renaissance England, where all correspondence was handwritten, resorting to “pen and paper” was not quite as simple as it sounds. In order to perform the physical work of penning a letter, a writer had to assemble a range of materials.


Goose feathers needed to be transformed into quill pens, iron gall nuts into ink; and paper needed to be treated so that the ink would not be too easily absorbed.  Quills needed to be refilled regularly and replaced often. Made of walnut, this inkwell has an opening to insert a quill at each corner. One of the openings is for the “quill in waiting.”


This seal matrix is made of a silver-lead alloy and brass, and is now probably missing its ivory or wooden handle.  Seals were highly personalized, often containing the initials of the sender, or the family crest or shield of arms. To seal the outside of a folded letter, letterwriters kept desk seals, or seal matrices, and often had seal or signet rings as well. Individuals often had both official and personal seals for sealing letters, so that the nature of their business was evident to the recipient before opening the letter.


Writers would keep writing supplies stored in these boxes, which were often outfitted with drawers and generally had slanted tops, serving as a comfortable writing surface.

From the collection of George Way, Staten Island

From the collection of George Way, Staten Island

From the collection of George Way, Staten Island.

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